At Grand Lake St. Mary’s where I dock my sailboat there are many channels and marina entrances. The lake is 10 miles long and at night it is difficult to find the right channel since many of them have no markers or lights. Recently, the Marina where I keep my boat has added a lighthouse. It stands some 48 feet high which can be seen from just about anywhere on the lake. Now I can find my way without having to rely on guesswork or luck.
Without light it is hard to find our way in the darkness. Life can be scary and its easy to get lost without some light to show us the safe channels. This letter was written to some Christian folks who had lost their way. They had separated themselves from the fellowship because they believed they were righteous and living without sin. Imagine that, in the early days of the church there were some who believed they were better than others. Instead of navigating with the light of God they were on a collision coarse, sailing in the dark.
Those folks needed the light of God to find their way. Light was a rare commodity then since their only source of light, other than daylight, was oil lamps. Very few people could afford them so many relied on candlelight. In modern times we take the darkness for granted since we now have artificial lighting. Finding or way in the dark is a relatively simple thing which makes it difficult for us to relate to this text. How many of us really know what it means to live in the dark? Or, to put it another way, how many really believe they ever live in the dark?
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One time there was a ship, steaming in the North Atlantic. It was a dark night and the navigator spotted a light in the distance. The captain got on the radio and notified the on-coming vessel to immediately change course. There was no reply. The light kept coming closer and the captain again radioed the on-coming light that was fast approaching; “This is a US Navy ship, please alter your course immediately.” Still there was no reply. Finally, the captain got on the radio again and said, “I am an aircraft carrier that is the largest vessel on the sea, please change your course at once since I am superior to all other ships afloat.” Finally, a voice came on the radio, “I am a lighthouse, change course immediately or be ready to sink in rocky, coastal waters.”
Although we don’t want to admit it we sometimes act like the captain of that aircraft carrier, thinking we are superior to others. Anytime we put others down, boast of our own goodness or believe we have arrived we too are living in darkness. Like the captain we need to yield to the light of God which can show us the way. God is like that lighthouse, giving us directions and leading us. To ignore God’s light is to live in the dark, for “God is light and in God is no darkness at all.”
We sometimes live in artificial light rather than live in the light of God. The light of self righteousness has a tendency to blind our eyes. We become so filled with ourselves that we see everyone else as inferior. Rather than live and walk in the light of God we want to constantly be in the spotlight.
God is always showing us the way but we have a tendency to do things our way. To walk in the light of God is to yield to God’s will. When we are on a collision course we need to change our course to stay in God’s light. It may not be to our liking but it can save us from destruction.
As a nation, we are feeling pretty good about the liberation of Iraq. But, for the last three weeks people in Baghdad have been without electricity. When one area of the city had its lights turned back on, a 42 year-old mother of three hit the switch and screamed, “electricity is here!” Once again they have light, but more than 80 percent of the city is still without power. The US military says that the number one need in Baghdad at the moment is power. We have a terrific job ahead, restoring light to the people in Iraq. To do that we will have to be good neighbors, send skilled engineers and resources to Iraq to rebuild their city infrastructure. If we want them to be free we have to share and be willing to help.
If you have ever experienced a power outage you know what it feels like. It is frustrating. You can’t cook, you can’t shave, you can’t use the hair dryer. You can’t watch television, use the VCR or play with your computer. You are forced to change your lifestyle which isn’t easy.
When we find ourselves following the light of God it means our lives are changed and they have new meaning. It means we help our neighbors, love some we don’t like and live with the reality that we can’t live our lives without God. We need God’s power to sustain us and we need God’s light to show us the way.
To walk in the light of God also means to be in fellowship with one another and with God. “If we say we have fellowship with God while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not live according to the truth.” In other words, faith is not lived in a vacuum. Faith is social. It means really knowing our brothers and sisters in Christ. When we live independently of the faithful we are only concerned with “me, myself and I.” We don’t believe we need others to help us find our way.
The crew at a certain lighthouse kept the place in show-window order. It was spick and span down to the littlest detail. They enjoyed keeping the lighthouse in that fashion. But they had one disagreeable task, namely, that of going out in the dark on stormy nights to rescue men from floundering ships.
Finally one man said, “We are rescuing too many people; they are messing up or lighthouse. Every time we bring someone in, the place gets all dirty and we have to work hard to get it back in order.” And another, who had lost the real purpose of the lighthouse, said, “Yes, and we have to be careful that they don’t take our jobs.” (written by George Skaret)
When we think that we can live our lives without the help of others we have really turned down the power of alternative light sources. Unfortunately we live in a society which teaches individualism and self reliance. We fail to see the hundreds of tiny lights that God provides for us in times of need. Like the lighthouse sailors we tend to see others as a threat to our existence rather than people who can help us and work with us.
Finally, to walk in the light is to “confess our sins,” and believing that our sins will be forgiven. I believe we have misconstrued the meaning of confession of sins. To some it means admitting your mistakes to a cleric or priest who acts as our mediator. In this context confession of sins means taking ownership of our limitations, mistakes, failures and all other parts of our lives that keep us in the dark. God wants us to be honest about who we are and acknowledge all of our actions, both good and bad. The Interpreter’s Bible says that walking in the light is the “recognition of things as they are.” (Vol. 12, pg. 225)
To confess our sins is to embrace reality. It means we are totally honest about our current state and therefore willing to open ourselves to the forgiveness of God. But, as long as we live in the shadows, as long as we pretend, or as long as we see ourselves as perfect, we are failing to walk in the light. As our text says, “we are deceiving ourselves.” Or to put it another way, we are living in denial.
There is a strange nonmetallic substance in chemistry known as selenium. When placed in the dark, it serves as an insulator and electricity cannot pass through it. But as soon as light is flashed upon it, it becomes a conductor and an electric current can flow through it.
To walk in the light of God is to be like a piece of selenium. If we stay in the dark and do not allow the light of Christ to shine upon us, we become insulators. No current can pass through us. But, as soon as we subject ourselves to God’s light, we become conductors of God’s love and light. (written by John M. Younginer)
That new lighthouse that has been installed at Grand Lake St. Mary’s didn’t happen by accident. I was recently told that the family who owns the marina lost a son. They built the lighthouse as a memorial to him. Because of his death many sailors will be able to find their way in the dark. Sound familiar?